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Easy listening – without the guilt

The new Nat King Cole

Top tunes to add to your playlist, from ancient Yemeni pop to easy listening – without the guilt

Top tunes to add to your playlist, from ancient Yemeni pop to easy listening – without the guilt

June/July 2016

A soulful balladeer

A 6’3” colossus of a singer, Gregory Porter has found himself straddling the gulf between the often-insular jazz world and the pop mainland. Dance remixes of his songs have made him the jazz vocalist most likely to be heard in a Brooklyn or Shoreditch bar on a Friday night. His occasional forays into social commentary have turned him into an unwitting spokesman for the Black Lives Matter movement. But his new album Take Me to the Alley shakes off these modern-day distractions and returns Porter to the orbit of his guiding star: Nat King Cole. The soulful ballads here, like Porter’s previous hits “Hey Laura” and “Be Good”, take the listener back to an earlier era, one in which easy listening came without the guilt.

This is Porter’s first new album since “Liquid Spirit”, the 2013 record that made his name outside jazz circles and won him a Grammy. There are a few uptempo numbers – “Fan the Flames” and “French African Queen” let his talented band shine – but the bulk of the album takes things slow and steady, allowing Porter to show off his rich baritone and clever, generous songwriting. If you’re searching for Gregory Porter the rabble-rouser or the remixee, look elsewhere. But if you’re on the trail of jazz’s last great all-rounder, you’ve come to the right place. ~ JAMES MANNING
Porter tours America Jun 6th-Jul 2nd; Europe Jul 8th-25th

WERTHER ORIGINAL

Opera stars who venture into the world of popular music and then return put their dignity at risk. In recent years, among tenors only Luciano Pavarotti and Plácido Domingo have managed the commute successfully; many others have been left looking and sounding foolish.

But Vittorio Grigolo, a 39-year-old Roman of irrepressible exuberance and cherubic good looks, seems to have pulled off the trick. As a chorister in the Sistine Chapel, he acquired a vocal technique of crystal clarity, to which he would later add the raw energy of a rock star. The result is electrifying performances on either side of the stylistic divide.

Moonlighting in big arenas filled with hordes of swooning female fans, he can croon through soft rock and crossover standards as persuasively as Andrea Bocelli, duetting with the likes of Nicole Scherzinger, the erstwhile Pussycat Doll, and earning platinum CD sales to match; at La Scala or the Met, he can bring the house down in impassioned interpretations of operas by Gounod or Verdi.

He’s been a favourite in London since his debut at the Royal Opera House in 2010, and his return this summer as the tortured poet who gives his name to Massenet’s Werther is eagerly awaited. There won’t be any half-measures: whether he’s singing at Wembley or the Opera House, Grigolo always gives his all, and then some. ~ RUPERT CHRISTIANSEN
Werther Royal Opera House, London Jun 19th-Jul 13th

SHOCK OF THE OLD

The next pop song that will be stuck in your head is a thousand years old – literally. Habib Galbi is an ancient Yemenite folk song about a woman abandoned by her lover that was passed down orally, from generation to generation. The only reason you’ll get to hear it is that three sisters from a village in Israel have made it their own. Liron, Tair and Tagel Haim – or A-Wa, as they call themselves – grew up listening to their Yemeni grandparents sing “Habib Galbi”; they also grew up listening to rock, soul and electronica. They decided to fuse these sounds to create something new. That something is bouncy, funky pop, with lilting vocals set over heavy grooves and traditional instruments.

Thanks to their producer Tomer Yosef, A-Wa’s debut album (also called “Habib Galbi”) is the best kind of pop: always hovering just on the edge of your mind, always welcome when you find yourself humming it. More importantly, it feels as if you are tapping into something that could have been lost to history, but which A-Wa have rescued from the sands of time. In Yemeni folk it’s traditional for musicians to put their own spin on the songs they perform. By updating “Habib Galbi” for a modern audience, A-Wa have given this cultural practice a new lease on life. These sisters aren’t just pop singers – they’re historians. ~ ROB BOFFARD
Habib Galbi released in Europe May 27th

To listen to a selection of songs from these pages, search “1843mag” on Spotify

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